Members of the Church in this land of the North gave a heart-felt welcome to a "favorite son" and "favorite daughter" as they turned out to greet President Thomas S. Monson and his wife, Frances Johnson Monson, Aug. 19-23.
President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, and Sister Monson, who both have Swedish ancestry, were welcomed "home" during an eventful week in the history of the Church in Sweden: President Monson officiated, with the assistance of Elder John E. Fowler of the Seventy and first counselor in the Europe North Area Presidency, in the business of creating the third stake in Sweden and the second stake in Stockholm on Saturday evening, Aug. 19. On Sunday, Aug. 20, President and Sister Monson addressed some 1,300 members of the Church in a conference in Folkets Hus, a convention center in downtown Stockholm. On Monday, Aug. 21, President Monson's birthday, they met with and addressed missionaries in the Sweden Stockholm Mission. On Wednesday, Aug. 22, President Monson officially greeted the king and queen of Sweden during their first visit to the grounds of the Stockholm Temple at Vasterhaninge. President and Sister Monson left for Germany on Thursday, Aug. 24. (Reports on the visit by the king and queen and on the portion of President and Sister Monson's activities in Germany will be in the Church News on Sept. 2. The report on the division of the Stockholm Sweden Stake and the creation of the Stockholm Sweden South Stake will be reported in a later issue.) In the stake conference, President Monson expressed his "deep gratitude for Sweden." He said he loves many lands and their natural beauty and the goodness of their people. "However," he added, "there is something about coming home, something about coming to this land of the North which has been touched with the finger of beauty, and where the gospel has been taught for so long a time."He spoke of the peacefulness of Sweden, a land untouched by war in the past few centuries, and said that one finds here not only "a picturesque garden of beauty, but also a choice people." He added that this is "where you find members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are willing to serve God and keep His commandments."
"Every time I return to Sweden, it is like receiving a charge to my spiritual batteries," President Monson said.
Referring to the fact that the city of Stockholm is located on 13 islands that lie between Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea, President Monson said: "When you first come to Sweden you are amazed at the amount of water everywhere. You feel you are with stable people, and you are uplifted in spirit."
President Monson mentioned his own association with Sweden and his family's background in the country. He mentioned an elderly woman who, upon President Monson's first visit to Sweden, told him that his brother, Scott Monson, had taught her the gospel and baptized her years before. Scott Monson's son is serving as a missionary in Sweden.
President Monson spoke of historic moments in the history of the Church in Sweden he has witnessed personally. First, he related some events of the day he created the first stake in Sweden, the Stockholm Sweden Stake, 20 years ago, April 20, 1975. (President Monson created the second stake in Sweden, the Goteborg Sweden Stake, on Nov. 19, 1977.)
He said that President Harold B. Lee had said a stake is a refuge against the storms of life. "Now, today, a new refuge against the storms of life has been created. It anchors the soul and gives motivation to move forward in building the kingdom of God."
He said another special day in the history of the Church in this nation was when ground was broken for the construction of the Stockholm temple, March 17, 1984. The weather was so cold, he said, that blow torches were used to thaw the ground for shovelfuls of earth to be turned.
Another highlight, he observed, was the dedication of the temple, an event he called "a spiritual treat to the entire nation of Sweden as well as to other Nordic nations."
President Monson spoke of the opportunity he had July 7, 1977, to offer a prayer of dedication on the land of Sweden. He said that in reading a history of Scandinavia he discovered that Sweden had never been dedicated, that the entire Scandinavian area had been dedicated with one prayer in Copenhagen, Denmark. He said he requested permission to offer a specific prayer upon the land of Sweden.
President Monson recalled that the prayer outlined "the formula for success of the Church in Sweden." That success, he said, would lie in the membership of the Church and the missionaries working together in discovering the gospel, living the gospel, sharing the gospel and in bearing their testimonies. "It is still the formula for our growth," he declared.
He expressed the desire for yet other stakes to be created in Sweden and throughout the Nordic nations.
President Monson spoke of the plan of salvation, the questions common to all mankind: "Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where do I go when I leave this life?" He cited the direction given by Peter: "Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you." (1 Peter 3:15.)
President Monson continued, "We came from the spirit world where Heavenly Father said goodbye to us but reminded us that He is available through prayer. . . .We grow as children, then we marry and have children of our own. Soon, those who were so very old when we were children have gone home to God."
He spoke of how swiftly the years pass, noting that he finds it hard to believe it has been 32 years since he was called as an apostle, and that he would (on Aug. 21) be 68. "Where have all the years gone?" he asked. "That's why we need to heed the words of the hymn: `Improve the shining moments; Don't let them pass you by.' That is our message. Whether we are old or young, our time does flee. Then the body is placed in the earth. But the spirit goes home to God who gave it life. (See Alma 40:11.) As we follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ, as we heed His commandments, we stay firmly on the path of exaltation, the celestial kingdom."
President Monson further said: "Somewhere along the line, all of us must gain a testimony for ourselves. . . . We must have a curiosity to know Jesus Christ. We must read the doctrine and we must apply the doctrine in our lives, and then we must get down on our knees and ask God if this is true. A testimony will be revealed."
He said if a testimony has become a little weak it can be strengthened. Some, he said, might have taken a temporary detour, but there is nothing like being back on the pathway to exaltation.
"My message today," President Monson said, "is, 'Keep the commandments of God, for not only will that lead to happiness in this life, but to eternal joy in the kingdom of our Heavenly Father. What better joy can man have?"
In his remarks, Elder Fowler said that Latter-day Saints are interested "in seeking after that which we know to be true."
He said that when the Savior walked the earth, He taught His disciples simple truths, but those truths have often been made difficult to understand as men have interpreted them. "Rather than adjust their ways of living to conform to the truths, they have adjusted the truths to fit the way of their lives," Elder Fowler declared.
He said that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints boldly proclaim to the world that they intend to live the truths that the Father would have them live as they adjust their lives to conform to those truths.